Year-end reflection is important for personal and professional development. In addition to assessing individual accomplishments and failures over the past year, we can learn from the experiences of others. The year 2017 saw incredible news stories filled with lessons for sole and small firms. Here are just a few.
This year marked Canada's 150th birthday, and it was cause for celebration across the country. Coupled with this celebration was a marketing campaign that ingrained the phrase "Canada 150" into the minds of Canadians and visitors.
Like Canada 150, sole and small firms ought to be proud of milestones and celebrate them with colleagues, friends and family. Not only is it a great way to acknowledge accomplishments, but it is an effective angle for marketing and creating firm awareness in the community.
Equifax data breach
On Sept. 7, Equifax, one of the largest credit reporting agencies in North America and hence a massive repository of sensitive personal data, announced a data breach impacting millions of consumers in the U.S. and Canada. Not only was the target and size of the breach concerning, but so was the delay in discovering the breach and then reporting it to the affected customers.
Like Equifax, law firms retain a lot of sensitive client information. We have all been warned that law firms are targets for data thieves. Insurers and regulators have made ample efforts to educate lawyers on how to protect against such breaches. The Equifax data breach should be a reminder that 1) data protection must be a priority; 2) lawyers should have procedures for securing client information and procedures in the event of a breach; and 3) staff must be properly trained on such procedures.
In late August and September, violent hurricanes devastated multiple cities in the U.S. There were undoubtedly a number of law firms affected by these hurricanes. The hurricanes were a reminder that 1) data must be backed up; 2) backed-up data should be off-site and cloud-based; and 3) firms need a comprehensive disaster recovery plan to efficiently and effectively navigate a catastrophic event.
This is the year Canadians bid farewell to Sears. There are a number of reasons why this decades-old department store failed, including a failure to adapt to changing retail trends: Sears was far out of step with consumer interests.
The lesson for small firms in the collapse of Sears is the importance of keeping up with changes in the industry. This requires periodically taking a step back and objectively considering existential threats to your practice, no matter how painful the exercise may be. Innovations such as self-driving vehicles, artificial intelligence and blockchain have the potential to dramatically change the practice of law. There will be new and more efficient ways to practise and deliver legal services that provide a competitive leverage to those who embrace them. Ignoring the changing times will put you down the same path as Sears.
This past year was one in which the federal government took aim at small businesses tax-wise, attempting to eliminate billed-basis accounting and curb smart tax planning. However, there was a strong collective voice from small businesses across the country, and a portion of these changes have been delayed or put on hold for further consideration.
The lesson learned here is that your voice matters, no matter what the size of the firm. In fact, the small firm/small business voice was more important than ever in 2017 as it was key in opposing the proposed tax changes. Practising in a sole and small firm can be isolating, but there is a community of such businesses keen on supporting each other for a common goal.
Ultimately, the news stories of 2017 remind sole and small firm lawyers to consider how we engage the world around us. Equifax did so haphazardly and paid for it. Sears refused to update the way it engaged and paid for it. Small business owners did so and preserved some parts of the way they do business. As 2017 winds down and we absorb its lessons, let's look forward to a new year of teachable moments gleaned from world events.